In 1983, before the Willamette Valley was the pinot powerhouse it is today, fewer than a dozen winemakers worked together to plan a weekend event that would draw outsiders into their intimate workspaces. Most of the wineries at the time were small and primitive, without grand tasting rooms. In order to boost wine sales for the holidays, guests were invited into cellars—sometimes even in winemakers’ private homes—to taste local wines and learn about the process of making wine in the Willamette Valley.
Today, the Willamette Valley Wine Country Thanksgiving continues in this same spirit, on a much larger scale. More than 150 wineries open their doors during Thanksgiving weekend for special events including exclusive tastings, dinners and specials on wine. For some participating wineries, this weekend is the one of the few times each year that guests are invited in. For others, unique culinary experiences, holiday markets and other celebrations ensue. Regardless of the magnitude for each winery, Wine Country Thanksgiving welcomes locals and visitors to become a part of the Willamette Valley wine family and celebrate the recent harvest.
“It still stems from the way it started, as a chance to welcome people from out of the region to taste onsite with the winemakers,” said Emily Nelson, associate director of the Willamette Valley Wine Association. “It’s especially helpful for small wineries because there is so much wine in Oregon, and this offers visitors a chance to meet face-to-face with winemakers.”
With access to exclusive tastings at rarely-open wineries, Nelson suggests choosing three or four participating wineries to visit each day, including a couple of your favorites and a couple that you’ve never heard of. “Try something new, but celebrate your old favorites,” is her guiding principle. You may also choose to focus on one geographical area and taste your way through that specific environment and the types of wines it produces.
Along with the weekend’s themes of harvest, family and holiday celebration is theme of charity. Four years ago, the Willamette Valley Wineries Association wanted to find a way to give back to local communities in an industry-wide effort. They formed a relationship with the Oregon Food Bank and encouraged wineries to set up partnerships with their local food banks as well, in a program called the Willamette Cares Food Share. Throughout the months of November and December, wineries contribute to the cause in a variety of ways: donating tasting fees, running canned food drives or offering discounts to their customers who donate.
This idea of sharing food with those around you is congruent with longtime traditions of harvest, a time to enjoy the bounty of the earth together, much like the holiday of Thanksgiving.
“Thanksgiving is the next big event after harvest wraps up,” Nelson said. “It’s a bountiful time of year, when everyone’s excited that their wines are resting peacefully in the cellar.”
Fortunately for Oregonians, the best wines to complement holiday meals are in their backyard, the Willamette Valley. “Pinot noir is the Thanksgiving wine,” Nelson said.
It pairs well with hearty dishes like turkey, stuffing and most everything on the table. Oregon pinot may be the Thanksgiving wine, but the Willamette Valley also produces enticing white wines, perfect for switching up your Thanksgiving meal with more non traditional fare. Of course, nothing ends a holiday evening like popping a bottle of bubbles.
Whether you’re foraging for the perfect wine for a holiday event, enjoying the variety of tastings or hoping to meet a local winemaker, the Willamette Valley Wine Country Thanksgiving has something for everyone to celebrate.
Wine Country Thanksgiving
November 24-26, 2017
11 a.m. - 5 p.m. each day
Various wineries in the Willamette Valley